The ‘first’ soldiers

During the Revolutionary War, the American army was made up of the men who served in the militias of the 13 colonies.

They were joined by farmers and store keepers, trappers and traders. They were inexperienced and poorly trained. Their commander, George Washington, had no previous military experience, although he had seen action in the French and Indian War. These “first soldiers” in America’s “first army” did not have uniforms and marched through the freezing snow at Valley Forge with no boots. They struggled with hunger and supplies and a lack of ammunition.

The British Army was one of the finest in the world. They had warm uniforms, were well-fed and had plenty of weapons and ammunition. The British Navy consisted of more than 250 ships, while the colonies had a total of 27 ships. Under Washington’s leadership, the colonists consistently held their own against the British. The colonists were fighting to create a nation “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Even though they came from diverse backgrounds and experiences, they joined together to put their lives on the line.

The Civil War was America’s bloodiest conflict. More than 600,000 lost their lives in the line of duty. More soldiers died in the Civil War than in World War I and World War II combined. Gen. James Garfield made the first Decoration Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. A crowd of 5,000 gathered to remember those who gave their lives. Garfield was an Ohio congressman who had served as a major general during the Civil War. Garfield would become the 20th president of the United States.

The Medal of Honor is reserved for those soldiers who distinguish themselves by going above and beyond the call of duty. It can only be awarded with presidential approval. Of the 32 soldiers who have been awarded the Medal of Honor in South Carolina, four were from Pickens County.


U.S. Army Pvt. Charles H. Barker, Six Mile

During the Korean War, Barker and his company were surprised while digging emplacements at their “Pork Chop Outpost.” Totally unprepared for the attack, Barker laid down a base of fire and launched grenades until they could maneuver to a better vantage point. As enemy action increased in intensity, their ammunition was running low. They were ordered to withdraw. Barker maintained a defense that allowed his company to escape. Barker was last seen in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy.


U.S. Marine Cpl. James “Donnie” Howe, Six Mile

Howe, a rifleman, and two other Marines were occupying a defensive position in a sandy beach area in Vietnam. The enemy suddenly launched a grenade attack against their position. When a grenade landed in their midst, Howe shouted a warning and threw himself upon the grenade, saving the lives of his fellow Marines.


U.S. Army Pvt. Furman L. Smith, Six Mile

During WWII, while serving in Italy, Smith and his group came under an intense German attack. The squad leader and one other man were seriously wounded. The group had to withdraw, but Smith refused to leave his wounded comrades. Smith stood his ground, killing and wounding many of the enemy until he was shot and killed, rifle in hand.


U.S. Army Pvt. William McWhorter, Liberty

During WWII, McWhorter, a machine gunner, was killed at Leyte in the Philippines. The enemy threw an improvised fused explosive device into their entrenchment, and McWhorter picked it up without hesitation and held it close to his body, shielding another soldier from the blast.

Memorial Day is over, the flowers have wilted and the flags are drooping, but we must never forget the true cost of our freedom.


Thank you for your service. Lynda can be reached at